Mariner and his wife moved to this small town when they retired about ten years ago. Culturally, they were dropped into a foreign country. Fortunately, mariner’s wife grew up in the town and had a sense of the culture. Mariner had been a consultant project manager who assisted corporations when they converted their management structures to take advantage of the new capabilities of multidimensional database technology.
His work took him all over the US and even to Taiwan for a computer upgrade so the Taiwanese could build modern jet fighter airplanes. Mariner and his wife owned a number of properties that kept them busy as well; and two children who took root far away. All this description is provided to give the reader some insight into the culture shock of moving to a small Iowa town of 900 folks in the middle of endless cornfields.
Let mariner say up front that the town folk are quite friendly and supportive. The town moves at a slow pace; the conversations and concerns do not march to a time schedule; a better term may be ‘timeless’. There are no complex responsibilities. Mariner had to learn how to live in his new town.
One interesting adaptation was to understand how residents referred to house and family locations. Large portions of the town can trace families back to the end of the 19th century. One is identified by their relatives and where they live or lived and whose house it was before that and before that when someone married someone else. Most older residents grew up in the town before it had street signs. Mariner, however, habitually mapped and organized the town by street names and sections so he could find his way around.
When mariner had conversations, the resident would say, “You know where Martha lives; she lives in Frank Merten’s house over a block from Aunt Dorothy’s house.”
“You have an Aunt Dorothy?” mariner inquires.
“No, everybody just calls her “Aunt.’
Mariner is further helped by the resident describing the color of the roof across the street. Haltingly mariner tries to convert the descriptions to a location with a street name, which block and intersection. It has taken some time for mariner to adapt to a new interpretation of both people and location. Even cemeteries are identified by who is buried in them rather than the official name of the cemetery.
To this day mariner is aware that he is not a ‘townie.’ But his independent view of the culture allows him to experience its charm and to understand what the national culture has sacrificed in the name of progress. Most notable is the importance of people as the primary definition of the town. One is not defined by terms like suburbanite or ‘west side’ or neighborhood class. The prime identifier is an individual and that individual’s role in the life of the town: “Remember when Frank worked at John Deere?” sets a timeline. There still is a residue of past generations when townie and farmer were discriminatory and whether one’s ancient town ancestors were movers and shakers but this is noticeable only among the town’s most elderly.
There is an advantage to growing up in this rural culture; it provides time just to be human. There’s an old tale about the plough horse, now retired and replaced by a young horse, who every morning still comes to the barn door to be harnessed. How one grows up is a life-setting experience. Do today’s young families have time just to be human?